Three minutes later the Bengals committed their only turnover of the game. and it cost them three points. Esiason threw for Tim McGee on the left sideline, but Bill Romanowski a 6'4" rookie linebacker, who was drifting underneath, leapt, batted the ball and came down with it. "It wasn't that Boomer didn't see me," said Romanowski "It's just that I don't think he figured I could jump that high."
The Niners had the ball on Cincy's 23, and again they came up a yard short of a crucial first down, but Mike Cofer's 32-yard field goal made the score 6-6 with 0:50 remaining in the third quarter. It looked as if a Super Bowl would be tied going into the fourth quarter for the first time ever.
But Stanford Jennings, whose wife had had a baby girl the night before and who had dreamed of running a kick back all the way as a kind of present for little Kelsey, did just that with the ensuing kickoff. He went 93 yards down the middle of the field without breaking stride or making a cut. The wedge in front of Jennings—tackles David Douglas and Jim Rourke, linebackers Leon White and Leo Barker—had swept the board clean.
The Bengals led 13-6, and still no touchdowns had been scored by either offensive unit. All of a sudden the game opened up. and the Super Bowl everyone will remember began. Starting on his own 15, Montana hooked up with Rice on a little out pattern. Rice shook off cornerback Eric Thomas and turned the play into a 30-yard gain. On the next play, as the fourth quarter started, Montana connected with Craig on a perfect 40-yard fly. Then the 49ers got lucky. They were on the Cincinnati 14, and Montana tried a slant pass to Taylor, who was on the goal line. Billups jumped and should have had the interception. "I knew they'd go to the slant, and I knew I had to get there fast." said Billups. "The ball got there really quickly. It surprised both of us, the receiver and me. It hit my shoulder pads."
Rice lined up in a slot left on the next play and broke to the corner as Taylor cut inside him. Montana laid the ball out perfectly, Rice caught it on the five, wrapped the ball around the goal-line pylon, and the game was tied again.
After the Bengals took over on their own 32 with 8:47 to go, Esiason passed to Ira Hillary, Cincinnati's No. 4 wideout, for 17 yards on third-and-13, and Woods bit off 17 yards on two runs. San Francisco was sagging. "The middle of our line was controlling things," said Bengal tackle Anthony Munoz. "Right then I felt we were going to win it."
The drive ended with a 40-yard field goal, which gave Cincinnati a 16-13 lead. A penalty against the Niners on the kickoff moved the ball back to the San Francisco eight, and the clock showed 3:10. There was time for one miracle.
"Did I say anything inspirational?" said Montana afterward. "Oh, no, I was concerned with other things. We were calling two plays at a time, and I had to think about what the second one would be. I did say to myself, though, Here we go, just like Dallas in '82."
The resemblance was striking. The drive that put the Niners in Super Bowl XVI, against the Bengals no less, covered 89 yards in 13 plays. It started with 4:54 left and ended at 0:51. This one covered 92 yards in 11 plays. It began with 3:10 to play and ended at 0:34. The Cowboys went with six defensive backs, and the Niners stayed with their standard two-wideout set. San Francisco won the game with power sweeps and short passes.
"A lot of teams would have just sent everyone down on a couple of bombs," said Walsh after the '82 game, "but we wanted to get 10- and 12-yard chunks, and we thought we could do it effectively because of the defense they were in."